Here in Ontario, a winter season never goes by without a thick layer of snow on our roads. Before deciding to head out to combat harsh winter driving conditions, we invite you to consider these questions to help keep you, your family, and others on the road safe during this less-than-ideal driving season.
What is the weather forecast for my trip?
Before getting behind the wheel of your car, take a moment to check the weather forecast. If you aren’t straying far from home, a local weather forecast is sufficient. However, if you’re traveling beyond, it is essential to check weather and road conditions for your journey.
We all know how quickly things can change, even within the same region. The sun may be shining at the Bryson head office in Ajax, but by the time a driver gets to Port Perry, they could be driving on a thick layer of snow and ice with whiteout conditions.
Do I even need to make this drive today?
You open the curtains and see snow falling and the road is covered in snow. You check the forecast and it doesn’t look like the snowfall is ending anytime soon.
If conditions are unsafe for driving, this is an opportunity to take a moment to consider if it is even necessary to brave the roads.
Maybe activities like getting groceries, visiting friends and family, going shopping, or other optional tasks can be delayed, cancelled, or rescheduled. The safest winter vehicle is the one still parked in the garage or driveway.
How is my tire pressure?
First and foremost, we assume you are driving with tires made for driving in our Canadian winter conditions. If you are using standard all-seasons and are looking out at a heavy snowfall, please return to question two and determine if you really need to make the trip.
It is normal to think that reducing the air pressure in tires through the winter would be appropriate. On the surface (smooth pun), it makes sense. Less air leads to more tire coverage on the road, meaning more grip.
The only time it makes sense to drive with reduced air is when the snow is soft and high, and you have a way to get air back in the tire before getting on any main road (think leaving a cabin in the woods).
The majority of us will not experience the above scenario very often. The best performing winter tires will be those filled at their appropriate PSI. Winter tires are designed with more aggressive tread, softer compounds, and start with deeper tread lines.
Winter driving with underinflated tires can reduce handling, slow breaking, and reduce tire responsiveness overall.
Have I dressed appropriately?
Driving at any time of the year in uncomfortable or non-functional clothing is not only not enjoyable but not safe either. If you’re planning to get behind the wheel with an oversized bulky coat or in high heels… think again. Instead, plan to dress warmly while also being ready for a long duration of high-focused driving time.
In case you need to get out of the vehicle, keeping gloves, mittens, boots, warm socks, and a toque easily accessible. Keeping those items near by is a lot better than trying to wear them all while also blasting the heat to keep the windows clear.
Is my in-car winter safety kit stocked?
Are snacks replenished and portable charges full? Did anyone pull out a warm blanket for another activity and forget to put it back? Giving your in-car winter safety kit a quick once-over gives you a bit more peace of mind before bearing the drive ahead.
Is my windshield washer fluid topped up with the right kind of fluid?
Many of us have experienced this scenario:
You are driving down the highway during a snowfall… road debris and salt is flying up on and covering your windshield, making it hard to see. To maintain visibility, you keep what feels like a near-constant spray of washer fluid going. As you drive with a heightened sense of focus, the low windshield washer fluid light comes on. You realize you’re at a distance from the next stop and have no windshield washer fluid stored in your vehicle.
To prevent this from happening to you, before even getting in the car, fill up your windshield washer fluid to the brim and keep a backup gallon of -40C washer fluid in your vehicle should you need to top up again while on the road.
Do I have enough fuel?
Keep the fuel tank as full as possible. It is never fun to run out of gas. It is much worse running out of gas in the middle of winter. A good rule is to treat the half-full fuel line as the empty line. Keeping this context will ensure you always have enough fuel to get to the next gas station.
Who knows where I am heading?
GPS, cellular coverage and always-on connectivity make overlooking this small but essential question easy.
If heading out for a drive in the winter, someone else must know where you’re heading and when to expect you. Slipping into a ditch off a side road during a snowstorm is more common than we would like to imagine. If you’re in trouble and unable to call out for help, at least the person you have notified will be alarmed when not updated on your whereabouts and will at least have some idea where to look.
Putting these simple questions into practice will lead to a safer, happier, and warmer winter driving season. On that note, drivers who put safety first can save even more on their car insurance premium. Be safe and save even more this winter!